iRacing: Will Simulated Sports Ever Replace Reality?

Recently, I discovered the existence of iRacing.

I was listening to [King of Speed from the *Daytona USA* soundtrack on loop, possibly for several hours,](https://youtu.be/bzZ3FHStAnI) as one does. Although I'd sort of already surmised what a ROOOOLLIIIING, STAAAAAAAAART was from the context, I decided to look it up. One of the results I stumbled on was, well, not quite an explanation for what a rolling start was, but it piqued my curiousity--a [reddit post](https://www.reddit.com/r/iRacing/comments/ei8em9/rolling_starts_am_i_doing_it_right/) where someone asking a question about what to do during a rolling start, in a subreddit for something called iRacing. At first glance, it looked like some sort of Gran Turismo like game, but, I'll get to it in a second, something seemed different about the shape of the conversation. They were asking about whether or not something the poster did was good or bad--they had seemingly done something that was in bad form, but since the game didn't penalize them, it was technically fine. But wait, it's just a videogame, who cares?

I learned a little bit more about iRacing, and found that, no, it's not _just_ a videogame.

It kind of felt like stumbling on the existence of a sport, but not like, an overly obscure sport. Imagine getting to age 31 and finding out about, I don't know, tennis, for the first time. Or maybe more like some kind of simulation version of tennis that is, not even hidden alongside the normal form, but has had a long enough history to have a confidence about it. It's not the hot new thing, it doesn't need to advertise, Video Tennis no longer feels a need to actively explain itself. It's just sort of like, oh, yeah, here's Video Tennis, or rather, iRacing. As someone who is really into i but not Racing, it still seemed strange to me that I had somehow never heard of iRacing. Maybe because, though, it's much more affiliated with Racing than the i part of things.

First question.

Did you all know about iRacing already...? Have I been living under a weirdly shaped rock that primarily obscured iRacing...?

Well, okay, instead, a more important first question.

What is iRacing?

I won't pretend I can beat an introductory wikipedia paragraph:

"iRacing, previously iRacing.com, is a subscription-based racing simulation online video game developed and published by iRacing.com Motorsport Simulations in 2008. All races and practice sessions are hosted on the publisher's servers. The game simulates real world cars, tracks, and racing events, and enforcing rules of conduct modeled on real auto racing events."

What iRacing seems to be is a step beyond your Gran Turismos and whatnots. If Gran Turismo is a Racing Sim Game, this is simply a Racing Sim. I wouldn't know myself, but while Gran Turismo might simulate something like, say, pacing laps, and penalty flags, and even expect players involved in online play to follow those things, iRacing clearly brings it several steps further to actually formalize these things and structures and designs competitive play to truly simulate real world motorsports.

Something more evocative that I think drives my point home more, if you can stomach some rancid American mainstream right wing vibes, ones emitted by Literal Tim Allen no less, watch some of [this.](https://youtu.be/umwqu0PWnoE)

Yes, that is on the official Fox News NASCAR Youtube channel, with what I am assuming are real NASCAR announcers and real NASCAR drivers, and they're _gaming._ It's maybe the first relatively large videogame community that I think my dad would know about and I wouldn't, which is a bizarre thought to me.

The second question is the broader subject of this post. Will simulated sports replace real ones?

I think what iRacing represents is that, it already has started to, definitively, and that's pretty neat. There is a totally different level of, for lack of a better term, legitimacy, as much as I am loathe to admit it, if your sim is being played on Fox News, introduced by well-past-their-prime right wing entertainment celebrities (I found another one with Kelsey Grammar), with professionals from the Meatspace version of the sport participating virtually as if it was the real thing. And not as a sort of ha ha he he look at us we're gaming, it seems to be a, *thing* on Fox. In fact, NASCAR has been officially sanctioning iRacing events for years, and they schedule virtual equivalents of real world racing events. iRacing has its very own officially sanctioned Daytona 500. This, maybe more than anything, makes it feel like "it's already happening" isn't an overstatement.

But it goes further than that. People play iRacing as "spotters," people who guide and coach racers over voice chat. Asymmetric multiplayer, not everyone who is playing iRacing are even actually racing! NASCAR has been training drivers for real racing with iRacing for years, apparently. And, perhaps the piece de resistance, not only was iRacing equivalents of racing events front and centre in NASCAR's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, they actually slotted those races into the same television time slots and it was very popular, and it looks like even with the return of real racing events, [them being televised isn't going to stop. ](https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2021-03-24/nascar-continue-iracing-even-though-real-races-back-on-track)

It's weird, for me, to kind of stumble on this. Because, for one, I have always thought NASCAR was, at its heart, at least sorta stupid. I mean, obviously I'm not arrogant enough to think it was without any complexity or subtlety (but I mean, also, it's just a loop... over and over again... [without even items to make it more interesting](https://youtu.be/b_VJauL2ujE)). My dad has watched NASCAR for as long as I can remember so I've certainly been exposed to it. At the very least, I think it's safe to say that NASCAR does not make for an exceptionally compelling videogame concept in of itself. Racing cars that are, on purpose, as similar as possible to all the other cars on the track, on tracks that are, well, different from other tracks, but, not by all that much. It's racing, and it has its complexities, but it is racing in a form that is distilled in a way that makes it difficult to translate into a videogame with much replay value in of itself. I suppose, it's worth noting iRacing isn't solely a NASCAR simulator either, but I don't think that devalues my point, here.

It wasn't until I watched someone play iRacing, and subsequently, imagined myself playing it, that I really started to actually _get it._ At least a little bit. It's about the shocking, extreme, almost out of control speed. That much I'd already assumed, I mean, it's not like NASCAR is trying to get slower. It's also about a lethal dance between people, there's strategy and optimization, etiquette and processes I don't understand but can see have a lot of meaning and utility, and the way in which understanding how it works has meant getting down into every tiny detail of it all complete with its own understanding of spatial information and even its own unique lingo. All for driving around in a loop for 3 hours.

I'm sure there is at least one actual motorsport if not NASCAR fan out there (there has got to be at least one, I know you're out there!!) who is probably thinking "well yeah, of course," but it did come as kind of a revelation to me. Perhaps iRacing displayed that to me is because for the first time ever I felt I could envision myself doing it.

Part of that is because of some undeniable contradictions present in motorsports. Now, before you get worried that I'm going to start talking about the cultural and social issues in NASCAR again because I said the words "undeniable contradictions" in sequence, I think those speak for themselves and I don't want to obsess over it too much, but mostly, I don't think they're totally relevant to the relation between motorsports and iRacing. I want to talk about how iRacing is different from motorsports, when, I imagine, this might be a realm where I assume it is more similar. Or at least, whether it is or it isn't, it's nothing inherent to the differences between them.

The first contradiction is the inherent danger involved in motorsports. Now, motorsports are far from unique in that they present real and serious threats to participants. However, I think it's fair to say that motorsports involve a particular sort of danger to participants that means a horrific instant death is always one wrong move away. Statistically speaking, I actually highly doubt motorsports are the most deadly professional sport, I would bet that horrible distinction goes to American gridiron football. Part of the reason that has remained true, however, is that perhaps unlike other sports, motorsports have meaningfully prioritized safety in a way other sports are unable or unwilling to. Regardless of that, motorsports and racing do still tend to top at least informal lists of the most dangerous sports, which at least implies they are among the most dangerous based on a range of metrics, unlike, say, gridiron football, which is probably said to be one of the safest sports ever played on Earth, but only if you're in a board room with NFL shareholders.

It almost goes without saying that the chances of an iRacing fatality during or even remotely related to a race are slim to nil. Put so evocatively in the Fox on NASCAR clip I shared above, after there is a huge wreck on the iTrack, one of the NASCAR Guys says "this is so different for me, Mike, when there's a big crash and everybody's laughin'!" Couldn't have said it better myself. Maybe there is some slimy little part of all of us that craves to see pandemonium, but for most, that is always going to be shut out by concern for the safety of others. A big crash during a real race could mean injury or even death, but with a simulation, it's all part of the fun.

What I find interesting about iRacing as an institution, though, is that instead of safety being prioritized to protect the lives of drivers and spectators, because, well, there's no need to do that, iRacing still actually prioritizes a sort of ritualization of those safety measures as a part of competitive etiquette and rules for being able to play competitively. In an interesting commitment to the simulation aspect, iRacing drivers are still encouraged to drive as if they are engaging in real world motorsports and to actively avoid crashes. Engaging in overly aggressive, risky driving, the kind that would kill someone in real life, instead is tied to your online account. Too many infractions and you can be disqualified from a race or even over long term, barred from competitive play. It's downright anachronistic, things done primarily to preserve the realism of the simulation. On top of that, to play competitively in iRacing, you need to register for competitive play using your _real name,_ the rationale of which is meant to heighten the sense of accountability you have to others while iRacing. Which, to just scratch the surface of the privacy and personal autonomy issues that I have with that, is serious stuff.

The detachment from horrific real world violence is also a part of the reason why I felt that I could see myself doing it. I do drive, and I am a fairly confident city driver. However, I am borderline vehophobic when it comes to high speed, long distance driving. With an attention disorder and a sleeping disorder, I have had too much experience behind the wheel while sleep deprived. It has sort of bled out into a generalized fear of being on the road too long and at too high of a speed, which I more or less disqualify myself from doing outright unless I'm fully alert and it's not for much time. Even in the abstract, then, the act of even sitting motionless in a racing car would probably send me into a panic attack. But, I think I _like_ racing. I like Mario Kart, I like go karting the one time I've done it, and when I watched someone play iRacing, I felt drawn to it.

The second contradiction worth discussing is the ecological impact of motorsports. I won't belabor the point, because, not unlike the cultural issues at play, this should speak for itself, but just in case, we can't ignore that the practice of motorsports for the most part are predicated on the consumption of fossil fuels. No, [not entirely,](https://youtu.be/_GG1njfJ6IY) but I do think it's important to recognize that without widespread global and national government intervention, motorsports as an overall institution will surely not give up fossil fuels willingly. I mean, this is assuming an actual global effort to meaningfully divest from fossil fuels happens. And, really, there are plenty of ecological costs associated with electric vehicles, they're not neutral, it's just, different. And really, the same could be said for computers, especially if they're on an electrical grid powered by fossil fuels or other greenhouse gas emitters! Not to mention all of the other non renewable materials that go into maintaining a car and even a race track--rubber for the tires, the bitumen in the asphalt of the racetrack, all of the computers that still end up in a race car even if they're not that sohpisticated in comparison, and so on.

Regardless, the question of whether or not motorsports will ever become "renewable" is kind of moot, it's really more like when it will reduce its ecological impact or cease to exist by necessity, 'cause of the whole impending climate apocalypse, and such. I would assume, and maybe that's a bigger assumption than I realize even if it's still largely true, that the ecological impact of a gaming computer and racing sim setup is _probably_ lower than a NASCAR with a combustion engine powered by fossil fuel. So, in this case, a simulation of the real thing is almost inevitable.

Lastly, the economic disparity inherent in motorsports. I haven't done any research in this regard, but I imagine if a Formula 1 car can cost as much as 14 million dollars, you probably have to be *a certain sorta person* to ever sit behind the wheel of one, or at least be known and trusted by *a certain sorta person,* never mind then gunning it hundreds of kilometres per hour into direct risk of severe damage. While lots of professional athletes are far from poor, and don't get me wrong, I think lots are also exploited too, motorsports is surely up there in terms of the wealth disparity between actual participants and audience. That's what I'm assuming, anyway. I am not totally aware of the economic structure of motorsports and the relation between who drives the vehicles, who owns them, and who profits and how much.

The economic barriers of entry to being a driver in iRacing, however? Well, okay, they still exist. To have an optimal experience (and, I imagine, stay truly competitive), you need an expensive computer, specialized peripherals, space to put it all in, a solid internet connection, probably a certain sort of shape or flexibility to your free time, and so on and so on. I didn't look into the pricing structure beyond that it requires a monthly subscription, but I have a sinking feeling that you need to spend *real money* on *virtual cars,* and that is utterly repulsive to me. But, well, it's safe to say even fi it's not nothing, that the economic barrier has got to be quite a bit lower.

So, in this sense, I think iRacing is kind of interesting in that it is a fairly surprisingly robust example of a simulation that really could actually stand in for the real thing, in a way I don't think is really matched in any other sport at this moment in time. Simulating the enormous complexity of the range and intricacy of movement in human body is, right now at least, practically science fiction. Never mind doing that with actual physics. And, maybe, simulating sports that require that will never catch on anyway, since, well, the fun of them is doing it with a physical body in the first place. At that point you basically need a virtual body, like in a theoretical neurolinked simulation of physical space. Introduce a level of detachment from the human body however, like a vehicle for instance, and we're already talking about something videogames have done to varying degrees of sophistication for a very long time. What your Gran Turismos don't do, at least not to my knowledge as much as iRacing does, is that it more exactingly rules, rituals, and etiquette to try and turn the illusion of a simulation that doesn't really break out of the confines of being a simulation confined to the limitations of it being a videogame. That is most prominently communicated by how that factors into a player's into an honest to goodness simulation, a virtual facsimile of the way this practice exists in reality. It's also positioned in a place where, if the shape of global society were to change, drastically, within, oh, let's say, the next 10 years, and let's say ideally that that shape will be pointedly against the idea of the hyper-rich careening around in multi-million dollar, fossil fuel burning death traps. iRacing represents a relatively smooth avenue by which motorsports as they exist now, if that is a thing people think is worth preserving for at least some time, can exist in a relatively accurately preserved state.

Do I want to even _play_ iRacing? Well, yes and no.

Okay, who am I kidding, obviously I want to try it. But I also think that I wouldn't have a very good time without at least a relatively solid setup. A high spec computer and at least a middle of the road control set up. All of which is leagues out of my budget. I don't know how long it would really hold my attention either, so, well, it's all kind of a non-starter. It might be something worth remembering after I've somehow been able to build a powerful gaming rig (been saying things along that line for about 15 years) and can maybe throw a bit of money at a control setup. But certainly not any time soon.

So mostly I thought it would be fun to discuss something in gaming that I had never heard of but seemed significant in the sense of how it represents a future for preserving something that might, or rather, hopefully, will cease to exist in the real world, at least in its current form, within our own lifetimes. I think it's safe to say that, it isn't a simulation videogame, it's a simulation. And, I think, NASCAR itself might even realize that, maybe even has known that for a long time. It doesn't take a genius with a crystal ball.

If you still don't believe me, I present my most compelling piece of soft evidence. [Look who is in an at least token executive position at iRacing. ](https://www.iracing.com/dale-earnhardt-jr-joins-iracing-as-executive-director/)

WRT fossil fuels in motorsports, I‘m sure there’s going to be increasing emphasis on and transition towards electric race cars, touring cars, and eventually Formula One-grade vehicles. It‘s a matter of transferring the best parts of combustion-based racing car quirks and strategies over to electric equivalents, plus any significant technical problems still being figured out with high-performance electric racers. The tracks themselves could still be an issue in terms of land use and human waste during big events, but that’s also manageable so long as the money's there to make it all more ecologically sound. Electric racers will also generate much less noise, meaning less sound pollution—always a benefit.

iRacing certainly is something. It's tempting to call it the EVE Online of motorsports sims with how rigorous and inaccessible it is for most players who'd want to try it. I think ye olde Gran Turismo's doing a better job of mainstreaming clean, proper motor racing etiquette via Sport and its online systems, but that's not what iRacing's about anyway. What I absolutely would want to see is more inroads for non-white male participants (not just Lewis Hamilton) in actual motorsports via iRacing and its competitors. Motor racing culture's long been a pasty sausage fest, for better or worse, and virtualizing some portion of it as seen with NASCAR could also help diversify who gets to make it in motorsport.

As for me, I'm over here waiting for the next great CaRPG. Gran Turismo will continue to fade into irrelevance for players like me unless it vastly improves its offline driving AI (meaning actually interesting racing), and Turn 10's making some weirdo mistakes with Forza lately that have drive the Motorsports games well below the heights of FM4 on Xbox 360 years ago. I really just want a way to hop between supercars, vintage/antique things like the Mercedes Simplex, and then back to, say, sporty kei cars or something, both offline and online. Great pad and wheel support is a must, of course, which Polyphony Digital's still good at, but a return to GT5's shuffle lobbies for casual play would be excellent. I wish there was a really involved PC-based CaRPG doing all of the above, but Forza's in a rut, same with Project CARS, and Asseto Corsa mods are either jawdropping (Shutouko highway recreation!) or very sketch.

I'm glad a real aficionado was able to read this!

>

@PasokonDeacon#26728 What I absolutely would want to see is more inroads for non-white male participants (not just Lewis Hamilton) in actual motorsports via iRacing and its competitors. Motor racing culture’s long been a pasty sausage fest, for better or worse, and virtualizing some portion of it as seen with NASCAR could also help diversify who gets to make it in motorsport.

My statement within my post about how I wanted to set the social/cultural issues aside, only extended to the initial post. I'm glad you want to discuss it!

Something like this is always a precarious problem, in the sense of just how deeply, hierarchically entrenched white and male and white male dominated these structures tend to be. Hierarchies tend to feel the need to reinforce themselves. Without some sort of monumental upheaval, a hierarchical organization with mostly white men at the top will stay that way. The dangerous thing, as well, is that that has its own effect of self deception. The white men at the top of a hierarchical organization with mostly white men at the top tend to believe that's... haha... based on _merit!_

Frustratingly, though, often in some ways it becomes even harder to tackle when those structures become at least marginally self aware that public opinion is, if glacially, moving toward at least tacit disapproval of it, because just realizing it and then even admitting that is not enough. Usually that is the case because these sorts of gestures don't tend to involve any meaningful following through where it really counts, which would be that sort of monumental upheaval to upset the hierarchical structure of the organization.

Forgive me for using Žižek adjacent rhetoric, but this is often the problem with diversity and inclusion efforts. Now, I'm not saying you were saying this and I'm sure we agree, but the problem I have with this sort of thing is that there is usually little to no actual culture or organizational structure changes that go along with them. The admirable goal of diversity tends to play out more like diversity theatre if there is no fundamental change in the power structures that made those environments hostile to an increase in diversity in the first place.

I guess what I mean to say is that, again, I'm sure we agree, efforts to include marginalized people into marginalizing structures is often in reality exposing marginalized people to just different forms of marginalization.

However, that's my very pessimistic view of things. But, I'm also kind of idealistic at the same time, in the sense that I feel the outright absurdity of bigotry is obvious to anyone who thinks about it for any length of time, so, bigotry still existing usually means not just that people have intellectually justified it, but that their material wealth (or at least their perception of it) depends on committing to bigotry, so it's much harder to uproot.

I've known about iRacing for a while now. I follow a streamer of Gran Turismo and he has often talked about it in comparison with GT. From what I know it is far more strict, much more of a simulation and more competitive than GT. I know some F1 drivers play it a lot and are insanely good at not just their own discipline but all types of car.

>

@Gaagaagiins#26720 …motorsports as an overall institution will surely not give up fossil fuels willingly.

I agree with this and I think most motorsports are leaning towards using biofuels or synthentic fuels before going to some sort of electric. The main reason for this is becuase electric cars are lethargic through corners no matter how you build them. In fact, I've started believing that one of the major reasons Formula E races on street tracks is so their lap times cant be compared to other racing series.

I don't think iRacing will ever _replace_ real racing but I think it definitely cement itself as an alternative. Reality has too many variables that become too hard to organise in a virtual space whether that be rain forecasts, changing wind directions/speed, debris or [this](https://www.formula1.com/en/video/2016/9/FP3___There_s_a_giant_lizard_on_the_track__.html).

I think virtual racing can and should become a junior series alternative. Junior/feeder series is the biggest problem with racing and is a large reason its become and maintains a "pasty sausage fest". The F1 feeder series' (F2, F3, F4) cost incredible amounts of money and the racers dont get paid at all, despite the races being broadcast around the world, and the guys in charge, the FIA, have made it so these series are mandatory. This limits the pool of talent the teams can hire from to a bunch of children of wealthy parents. It doesn't help that most of these series are based in europe either. If virtual racing can become part of this cycle and be recognised as such it would help people transition into real cars, as they could demonstrate they have talent and hopefully get a few sponsors to lower the costs.

>

@beets#26743 I don’t think iRacing will ever replace real racing but I think it definitely cement itself as an alternative. Reality has too many variables that become too hard to organise in a virtual space whether that be rain forecasts, changing wind directions/speed, debris or this.

First, yeah, I think if virtual racing does ever fully replace real motorsports, it's probably because I have been appointed as a global totalitarian philosopher king. And it assumes that we in some somewhat recognizable sense survived the climate apocalypse, and fossil fuels are, well, mostly remaining as fossils instead of fuels.

Secondly, ||wow!! I'm pretty sure that's a komodo dragon!||

@Gaagaagiins#26720 I‘ve gotten a little more into sim racing this past year, and while I haven’t played iRacing, I have learned a little about about the esport at large. I don‘t know if sim racing will ever completely replace the real thing. There are a few sim racers I follow, and I get the impression that the goal of most of them is to eventually ascend into real life motorsport. I suspect this is because sim racing can’t simulate the whole experience of being a race car driver. Sim racing makes a lot of the technical aspects of the sport accessible to a lot more people. With sim racing you can engage with a lot of the mechanical concepts of the sport: racing line, grip, weight balance, throttle and brake management, etc. But some of the physically taxing parts of the sport, the parts that make race car drivers athletes in the traditional sense, are still out of reach to sim racers. The only example of this I can think of is how formula 1 drivers have to train extensively to withstand the extreme g-forces the cars experience while accelerating and braking. I think a lot of sim racers want the experience of actually being in the car. Perhaps some of them desire the danger inherent in the sport, though it should be mentioned that in the last 20 years both NASCAR and Formula 1 have become much safer than they used to be. And while I haven't spectated a real life race, I can draw from my experiences at tractor pulls and demolition derbies that part of the appeal of these sorts of things as a spectator is just how LOUD and physical they can be.

All this being said, I do think sim racing is amazing in its own right. My Hot Take is that sim racing is probably the best esport for many of the reasons you mentioned above, though I have to admit this is mostly because I've totally bounced off games like League of Legends and Counter Strike. Here's my points:

  • 1.

    The accessibility of the sport makes it easier to appreciate than other esports. Anyone can pick up gran turismo, fail at it, and get a feeling for what makes the sport difficult but also get a feeling of what makes the sport fun.

  • 2.

    I speculate that the emphasis on sportsmanship and etiquette in titles like iRacing and Gran Turismo Sport make for much healthier communities (again, I haven't played either of these, correct me if this is wrong) .

  • 3.

    A lot of the technical aspects of the sport are easy enough to understand even if you can't execute on them, which I think makes the sport more fun to spectate.

  • 4.

    Sim racing is just easier on the eyes than other esports. I can clearly see where the cars are, who's in the lead, who has the advantage. When I watch other esport titles either the game is too visually chaotic or things change too quickly to understand what's happening.

  • 5.

    Sim racing is a very honest simulation of an Actual Sport, which means it inherits a lot of the things that makes the real thing fun to play and spectate!

  • But even if sim racing isn't the best esport, it's still pretty gosh darn great. I recommend the youtuber [Super GT](https://www.youtube.com/c/xSUPERxGTx/featured). He has some pretty good commentary of his races in GT Sport that I've enjoyed watching over lunch a lot this year.

    If you have an interest in iRacing, you should also do a little bit of research in to R-Factor 2 as well. The “game” (in the same manner as iRacing is a “game”) is built on the same framework as the simulators used by Formula 1 and other professional motorsport teams (R-Factor Pro).

    Simulation racing is a whole lot of fun! Granted, it was only in Forza Motorsport (2, 3, and 4) rather than anything like iRacing, but I used to have a regularly scheduled race event with a group of friends. We'd all take turns week after week to pick one track, and we would practice that track during the week and then get together on whatever evening and race. We'd drive "properly" -- no bumper cars, no cutting corners, etc etc -- and it is some of the most fun I've ever had with games. Certainly the most fun multiplayer experience I've had at the very least.